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Newsmakers

Shaun Donovan News/Business. (2012) Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan answers questions.

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Romney 3, Obama 2, Wisconsin 2, Obama Administration 2, Freddie 2, Shaun Donovan 2, America 1, California 1, Nevada 1, Washington 1, Us 1, The Lowest 1, Freddie Mac 1, Sheila Bair 1, Localized 1, The Senate 1, Fannie Mae 1,
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  CSPAN    Newsmakers    Shaun Donovan  News/Business.  (2012) Housing and Urban  
   Development Secretary Shaun Donovan answers questions.  

    September 30, 2012
    6:00 - 6:30pm EDT  

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housing and urban development secretary shaun donovan. initial obama campaign stop in wisconsin. then a debate in the wisconsin senate. >> this week on "newsmakers" we are joined by shaun donovan. welcome. we have a few reporters with us. alan from "wall street journal" and brady from "the washington post." >> the housing bust has been a catastrophic event for millions of american families. this go around we have not heard that much about it from either campaign. why does housing seem not to be a focus this time? >> it is a focus of the president. as you know, there is a broad range of things we have done to
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try to move the country forward and move the housing situation forward. you have seen president obama talking about the need to open up more refinancing. this is one of the most important things we can do at a time when interest rates just hit 3.4% this week, the lowest 30 year mortgage rate in the history of the country. we have to open it up to more families. that is something the president has talked about. we are taking actions to do that. he is urging congress, the senate, and the house to take action on the proposal to open up free financing more broadly. beyond that, i do not think we have heard much from the president's opponents on
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housing. i am not sure he has ideas that can move the housing market for word that are stronger of better than what the president has put forward. we heard governor romney say just what the housing market hit bottom. that is the something the president will let happen. that is why the president has been talking refinancing. >> before this election, what grade would you get yourself and your agency? >> clearly, if you look at where the housing market is in the improvements that have happened, there is no question, i will let others assign letter grades, that is not my job.
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there are things we have done that worked very well. refinancing is an area where we made changes last year. we have far more people participate than expected. there are other things we have done that have fallen short. we have gone to other programs and made changes. those are now working effectively. the big question is not what letter grade you give. tt is whether home owners are better off and whether we are making a difference in their lives. housing prices have been up substantially. 1.3 million families have
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gotten back above water on their mortgages. we had about $860 billion of new home equity created in the first six months of this year. clearly, are we where we need to be? have we completed a recovery? absolutely not. there is no question that we're moving forward in the housing market has gotten better. we need to keep pushing. do we go forward? do we continue doing more? or do we go backward? >> i like to follow up. the interest rates right now. they are historically low. they keep setting new lows. the federal reserve said they intend to keep them as low as possible for a long time. a big frustration on the part of many americans who cannot access those rates to refinance because they may not have the credit scores that are still
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under water on their homes or savings for a down payment. what would you say to those people who feel that frustration of not being able to access that? what more can be done? what would you say to them? what would you think the government should push for? >> this is an absolutely critical question. this is critical for individual families. even with an 11% reduction in the number of underwater families in the first six months of this year, we still have over 10 million families under water. they owe more on their homes and their homes are worth. 90% are paying their bills every month. they're doing everything they can to meet their
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responsibility. they are locked out of savings of over $3,000 a year. it is like a tax cut. for those families, it is a problem. it is also a problem for our economy. one of the most important ways for monetary policy is through consumer debt. they spend it in support of local businesses. whether it is fixing the roof are going out to dinner or what ever. it creates jobs. the fact that there is not as much refinancing is a problem. that is why a year ago when the president put forth his american jobs act, he also said "we will do more about refinancing." the first thing he did is say we're going to take the actions we can with their own powers to help more families refinance. that is specifically for families with government guaranteed mortgages. since we made those changes, we
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have seen a refinancing across the country double. in the states that were hardest hit, importantly. in nevada we have seen a more than tripling in the number of families we financing. we expected to reach at most 1 million homeowners. we are about to reach a million just in the first nine months. that is a real success. here is the problem. we have too many families that cannot have a government guaranteed loans or that have loans that they are still locked out because the fees are too high for them to refinance. there is not enough competition or there are other reasons. they may be above water on their first lien but they have credit card debt are college loans or second lien that is stopping them.
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that is why the president laid out a comprehensive package that would help every family who is current on their mortgage be able to refinance. it is why we have made it our top priority when we come back from the session. there are three pieces of legislation. we want to see them passed right or the senate gets back into session. this is something we can do. it is common sense. it saves money for families and the taxpayer. we ought to get the bills passed. >> are there things before congress that you could make
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changes that cannot involve congress? >> we continue to find ways to tweak the programming changes. the biggest changes we can make are the ones we have made. we do not think we have much more artillery left on this problem without congress acting. for government guaranteed mortgages we made a large number of changes. what really needs to happen is congress needs to happen. >> last week governor romney said that lenders have been tight on the lending standards largely because some of the key dodd/frank rules have not been completed. we're still waiting for finality and some of these rules. do you agree with that analysis? >> i am not sure who he is talking to.
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i talked to lenders all the time. these are rules. they do not apply. i am not hearing that the uncertainty as we are finalizing these rules, and the requirement in the law was to finish them by january of next year, and we are scheduled to finish the qualified mortgage and some of the servicing rules. i am not hearing that is a significant barrier. the real issues that have held back credit. we have been through the most significant crisis since the great depression. it is one of the reasons why it is so important that fha has made credit available.
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i think there are a number of issues that are much more significant that we have to solve in order to get more credit flowing. i do agree that there are people out there who should be getting loans that are not getting loans. i do not think it has anything to do with what governor romney pointed to. what it has to do is questions like how are we going to be enforcing them? that is something we put up more clarity on in the last few months. it is starting to make a difference. it is things like that that are immediate issues and not rules that would apply to future loans. what i hear more from the lending industry is let's make sure we get this right rather than rushing into a decision or finalizing these rules and the way that does not make sense. >> speaking of congress, i think everybody expects there to be a big debate after the election into next year about the budget and tax policy. there are some housing issues wrapped up in that. do you think that congress should scale back or eliminate the mortgage interest deduction as part of that? what other housing related
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issues are relevant? >> i have said this before. i think this is not the time to be questioning the fundamental pieces of whether it is the mortgage or other things while we are still very much focused on recovering from the crisis. anything that would change the system substantially now, have a real risk of stopping the momentum that we have in the housing market is not something we ought to be doing right now. that is something that i really think we ought to focus on, continuing to repair the damage that was done. we are making a lot of progress. the efforts are having protraction. it is much more important that congress passed refinancing legislation been focused on something that could hurt the recovery. >> if the final product would
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say something like "if we will get rid of mortgage interest deduction in three years or five years," might that help spur on people to get into the market? >> i do not think what we're focused on repairing the damage from the crisis that it is the direction we ought to be going. i think it has significant risks. >> fannie mae and freddie mac have been under federal control for over four years now. the administration has a set of options but never a detailed recommendation for what should be done with them. is the time coming for that soon? >> when we put out our ideas for housing reform, we were very clear that there are a basic set of choices to be made.
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we made out three clear options. we were clear that there has to be some basic consensus of rounds which of those directions before we can get into the details of what legislation should look like. there has been a lot of partisanship. this has not been something that congress has been able to reach a consensus on. particularly attention is focused on the campaign and election. there has been even less attention. what i would tell you is a we are ready and eager to get into the details of how to reform
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fannie mae and freddie mac. the president laid out a set of options on what we would do. what we need now is for congress, and i expect this will happen soon after the election, to focus back on is there a bipartisan solution that we could reach on this? if we see the opportunity with consensus emerging, we look forward to working with the bipartisan group to get reform done. >> the administration has not always seen eye to eye on the regulator. namely on the idea of allowing them to reduce principal for homeowners. earlier this summer, the main overseer said the agencies would not do that. i am wondering how you see that as a missed opportunity and if you think that is the last word. what you think the effects are on ways to alter it?
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>> i disagree strongly with that decision. an analysis was done by freddie and frannie that says not only would this have been positive for the individual homeowners, it would have saved the taxpayer at least $1 billion. this certainly seems to me like a mistake and a missed opportunity. i also do not think it is the last word. here is why. we reached earlier this year the largest joint federal settlement in the history of the company, more than $25 billion among the five largest institutions.
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a few weeks ago we got the first report on that settlement. we also just this week got news from the occ looking at what is happening more broadly. what we're seeing is that the majority of time that private lenders, those who own private mortgage backed securities, when those modify loans, and they are using principal reduction. this has been the standard for the way we approach modifying loans except for fannie mae and freddie mac. there's a reason why this has become the standard. partly it's because of the standard. it is something more banks are realizing if we write the principle we are more likely to recover in the end because we give the homeowner light at the end of the tunnel. i believe that as we see
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further results from the settlements, as we're able to document that it makes more families likely to pay, the case will only become stronger the principal reduction is the right way to go. i have not given up hope. this is something we will continue to push on. we certainly hope and expect that fannie and freddie will reconsider the decision. >> we have a few minutes left. >> you mentioned the settlement. that would have been february it was finalized. i am wondering your assessment of how effective and significant it has been. a lot of homeowners have seen help from that at the same time, a lot of states have taken this and use it to plug their budgets and not put it toward home owner aid. i wonder if you think it has been as effective as it should have. >> i would say i am cautiously optimistic about the
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implementation so far. we only have earlier results. this preliminary report was for march through june. we know it is almost in three months since the end of june. we have seen much more happen. it is delivering what we expected to deliver. what we demanded that the banks deliver. it is likely that the banks are able to meet their obligations not with in three years but hopefully within one year of the settlement being signed. there were cash payments that went to the state. there has been some attention, and i have personally called the governor's to tell them they are making a mistake.
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2/3 of the money, 10% of the overall settlement, that was going in cash to the state. of that 10%, we now expect about 2/3 to be used for housing counseling, legal services, programs to help neighborhoods. even that money is going to the things i would have wanted it to go to. there have been some against my better judgment used to fill budget gaps. by and large, if you take 2/3 of 10%, 97% of this money is going where we expected it to go to. i have talked about the benefits. one of the other big parts of the settlement was to change the behavior that led to this crisis.
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on tuesday next week, 300 different standards on how homeowners are treated by their banks go into effect. they will make sure when you call your lender that they pick up the phone. 20% in paper work, they get back to you within a certain number of days. they are not foreclosing on the wall they're trying to help you. or worse, taking away your home without reading the documents. the standards go into effect next tuesday. we have already started to see some changes. i think we're going to see more as a result of these changes. i am encouraged. the settlement was never intended as a single thing to fix the housing market. it was part of a much broader set a strategy is like the
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refinancing we talked about, the modifications we are doing. it was intended to change the market. it has been a leading edge. more principal reduction is happening. we're seeing the way lenders treat homeowners. >> if president obama is reelected, do you anticipate coming back for a second term? >> i anticipate the president been able to make that decision. it is up to him. i love serving him. he will decide to his team is and how we will carry forward. >> would you accept the invitation? >> i love what i'm doing. i think we're making a real difference. i am real happy with the work i am doing. >> several cities around the country have been developing plans to use eminent domain powers to seize troubled
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mortgages and restructure them. how do you feel about using that tool? >> it has been surprising to me the amount of attention that has been focused on this. if this were to ever go forward, it would be subject to legal challenges. we are talking about a relatively small number of places that are considering it. to be honest, it has gotten more attention than it deserves. in many ways it is something that we ought to be focusing on, a solution that could help millions of families like refinancing. things that have a bigger chance of impacting people's lives. in terms of the specifics, eminent domain law is something that is a very specific. i have not spent a lot of time looking at the specifics of california law that might
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influence whether this is something that could move ahead. we would all be better off focusing on something that could really help the housing market more quickly. >> can we get your reaction to sheila bair's new book? >> i was able to work with her very closely. whether it is working on the settlement or in a number of other areas, and the work that she did on loan modifications was something that we looked at closely. when you're setting up our program. when she speaks, i always
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listen. she has a lot to contribute. i also think that more and more as we look back what we're seeing is that many of the decisions that we made have actually really began to make a difference in the housing market and for families, whether it is the 5.5 million families, the millions of families who have been able to refinance because of the work we have done. all of those things have contributed to the recovery we are seeing, whether it is home prices. i encouraged as the history is more written, what you will see is the steps that we have taken in the housing market have
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really made a difference. >> the obama administration is taking credit for the price in housing? >> i think there is no question that the actions we have taken have improved the housing market. the expectation will be came into office, if you look at what the market was expecting for home prices, where home prices are today, all of those are so densely better than what was expected when the president came in. they are not perfect. we have gone back and made
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changes where things were not working as well as they could. there is no question the work we have done has made the housing market stronger. there's still a lot of work to do. i hope when the first things congress does is passed the president's refinancing plan to help millions more families you are under water but still paying their loans. >> we are all out of time. thank you. we are back with our two reporters. a lot of people out there trying to refinance. what did you hear? >> i heard a lot of optimism about their prospects in congress. he seemed optimistic that they get this bill through. i am not sure if this bill will get through the house. some republicans will not want to get him this. >> after the election, the also face a fiscal cliff. >> he did not want to risk hurting the recovery by getting rid of something that is popular and benefits families.
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the bigger picture is that it is a very popular tax deduction that many people in america and joy. it would be a big fight to get rid of something like that. i don't see there is much prospect for that to be change anytime soon. >> there is some sense that there is a broad deal that lowers the overall rate and as some of the deductions could be in play next year. problem not eliminated but maybe there could be some scale back or an income limitation or a limitation on the value that could potentially be scaled back. there's going to be a huge fight. >> housing prices are on an uptick.
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the secretary took credit for that. the obama administration took credit. he did not want to give a grade for their efforts so far. are others giving him and the obama administration a grade? >> it depends on who you ask. he gets the full range. he is right to point out that it is hard to save the nation's housing market. is very localized. some places are hurting. ihe is right to say it has improved a lot. there are millions of people that are facing foreclosure. a frustration on the half a million people who cannot access these rates that the fed has pushed down so low. has pushed down so low.